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Keeping pace with development

Keeping pace with development

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    Rick Powell stands beside Illinois Route 47, one of the arteries that carries people and industry through fast-growing Yorkville. Photos: Paul Schlismann

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    Kendall County continues to growKendall County has experienced rapid growth since 1970 and was recently listed by the U.S. Census as the second fastest growing county in the nation. Source: U.S. Census

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    Right: Subdivisions are popping up like weeds all across Kendall County. This one in Yorkville is on what was previously farmland. Above, right: Eric Dhuse (right), Yorkville's public works director, works with Brian Sorensen (left) and Joe Moore at one of Yorkville's new water treatment plants that will serve a new subdivision.

Threading the Needle

The current rate of development drives the need for the study but also presents challenges. “The land is bare ground today,” said Powell, “but developers are putting together plans. If one areas of a proposed route is chosen, it causes a disruption to the planning process.” He describes the process of locating alternatives as “threading the needle.”

“In locating the alternatives, we first looked at how they served the transportation needs then we looked at environmental impacts,” said Powell. “We found that routes located in the eastern portion of the region work better but have more environmental impact. There is no solution that is ideal for everything.”

To date, several alternatives have been proposed by IDOT: freeway options offering limited access and primarily serving regional needs, and arterials or regular state highways primarily serving local traffic. In addition, transit and traffic management strategies can be developed to ease congestion and address needs. Powell said that combining a freeway alternative with an arterial alternative seems to offer the largest improvement in travel conditions, the most significant decrease in crashes, and the best access to employers.

Including the Public

IDOT has held many public meetings with public officials, community and special interest groups, and the general public to get input on the project. This interaction with stakeholders afforded an opportunity to educate the public about the study process and revealed many of their concerns and perceptions about transportation in the region.

Most participants have agreed that traffic congestion is a major problem. One respondent said, “For three and a half years I've had a store in Montgomery, and it seems like every month there's a subdivision opening up, and more traffic.”

A survey of respondents in the primary area of the study showed that 61% believe growth is inevitable and roads should be built or improved before traffic problems increase. The top outcomes commuters wanted from new transportation improvements are increased safety and fewer accidents, improved travel time, and improved local traffic. Studying alternatives and analyzing environmental impacts takes time. Powell estimated that the entire study will be completed around mid-2008, although he did say this timetable could be accelerated based on results of environmental review. A detailed presentation of the study and related information has been established at www.prairie-parkway.com.

Once the final route is approved, the next phase involves the actual design of the chosen route. Powell said this work traditionally takes two to three years, but there is also the option of fast-tracking the process. Actual construction of the road will take about two years.

“We will end up looking for opportunities to accelerate the project at each phase,” said Powell. Decreasing the time to provide the needed transportation is important because not only does it alleviate congestion and address immediate transportation needs, but competition for ground is continually driving up land prices. Land for right of way cannot be purchased until a route is chosen and time will increase the ultimate cost.

The County Perspective

John Church, board chairman for Kendall County, said the county has taken a proactive and more localized approach to meet traffic demands. “The parkway will help regional traffic in general, but we must keep up the local road network,” he said. “People get frustrated when they walk out their front door, get into their car, and it takes a half hour to get to the grocery store. There will always be an increase in travel time related to growth, but we are trying to reduce it as much as we can.”

Church, who has been on the board since 1994 and chairman since 1996, has witnessed much of the growth from the front row. “Our biggest challenge has been the budget and the implications that growth has had on it. We have used up our road and bridge reserves,” he said.

In 1997 the state required counties to place a property tax cap option on the ballot. Voters in Kendall County voted in favor of this cap leading to a reduction in roads and bridge funds. To make up for this lack of funding, the county has been working with municipalities to share impact fees for roadways. Church said, “We are also pushing for the state to pass a highway impact fee.”

The county has followed the example of many other communities in Illinois and has tried to get a half-cent sales tax increase passed. Last year this was placed on the ballot but failed to pass. Church said they will try this avenue again.